First responders, kids with autism learn to interact with each other at first annual meet-up

Kids with autism learn emergency safety

AUSTIN - From sitting inside an ambulance to testing out the functions of a fire engine to rummaging through a police officer's bag, some Austin children got the chance to have a hands-on meet-and-greet with first responders Sunday morning. 

"Everything's cool in there. I mean like, they have all sorts of stuff," said Jonah Papovich. "Yeah, my mom signed me up for this."

Jonah's mom, and the other parents at the event held at the Walnut Creek Park, signed their kids up to participate because they have autism.

"He's like a kid in a candy shop today," said Casey Papovich, Jonah's dad. "It's harder for them to sometimes communicate and so, you know this way they get to experience and meet with policeman and emergency workers before there is an actual emergency."

Statistically, nearly half of all people with autism will experience an emergency.

"Forty-nine percent of the autism community wander at some point in their life," said Suzanne Potts, Executive Director of the Autism Society of Texas. "And so with thousands of autism families in Central Texas, if there is a wandering situation or a crisis occurs, they need to be safe and feel secure in what will happen."

Potts said the meet-up is not only important for people with autism, but it's also important for first responders.

"Unfortunately we have seen incidents in other states and here in Texas where there has been an arrest or an incident happen because the person with autism didn't understand what to do. So for a police officer to say do you waive your rights and our folks are literally waving their rights because autism is a speech and communication disorder, they take things very literally," said Potts. "So some of the commands that are given are very confusing for people with autism and that can lead to chaos and confusion. So we're trying to mitigate that and deescalate these situations with our first responders."

More than 70 families signed up to attend the event. The Autism Society plans to make it an annual event.

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